NUS to form new college taking in its arts and social sciences and science faculties next year

Article from Straits Times

SINGAPORE – The National University of Singapore (NUS) will be bringing together two of its faculties – one of them its largest – to form a new interdisciplinary college from next year.

It has been proposed that the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – which has the largest enrolment in NUS, with 6,404 undergraduates in the last academic year – be brought together with the Faculty of Science to form the College of Humanities and Sciences, The Straits Times has learnt.

Both faculties are located at the university’s Kent Ridge campus.

The two faculties will still exist, with plans for current deans Professor Robbie Goh of the arts and social sciences faculty and the science faculty’s Professor Sun Yeneng to become co-deans of the new college, ST understands.

In response to queries from ST, an NUS spokesman confirmed the news, adding that “the working draft for the proposed new NUS College of Humanities and Sciences is preliminary, and the proposal is still in the consultation stage”.

The internal consultations, based on the working draft that was circulated to faculty members, began soon after NUS President Tan Eng Chye wrote a commentary this month in The Straits Times about the need for universities to move from subject specialisation to interdisciplinary teaching and research.

According to the working draft seen by ST, students admitted to the college will have access to facilities and courses offered in both faculties, allowing greater flexibility of disciplines across the Humanities, Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics. 

This move towards more interdisciplinary learning comes with the Education Ministry’s push in recent years for graduates to have core skills and knowledge, while remaining versatile and adaptable to future conditions.

In 2017, MOE had called for the creation of university modules that were not tied to any specific discipline. Such modules are likely to prove more durable and stay relevant despite change and disruptions, and will add a greater degree of flexibility and resilience to the education system, then-Senior Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary had said.

Former Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said in June this year, at the Schools and Institutes of Higher Learning Combined Workplan Seminar, that graduates need more broad-based expertise to meet an ever-changing landscape moving forward.

Mr Ong had noted that the interdisciplinary shift was already happening, with polytechnics starting programmes with more common modules. For example, Nanyang Polytechnic announced a new teaching model where multiple disciplines will be taught concurrently, while Singapore Polytechnic merged eight media, arts and design courses into one.

Acknowledging those efforts, Mr Ong had called for a “bigger transformative push”, with leaders of tertiary institutions agreeing that bolder moves are needed.

The NUS spokesman said that the plans for the college “may evolve as a result of internal and external consultations over the next few months by NUS leadership and the deaneries of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Science”.

She added that full details will be shared when the initiative is officially approved by the relevant authorities.

If approved, the new college could begin accepting students as soon as the next academic year, which begins next August.

NUS President Tan Eng Chye said the proposed college will equip students with market-relevant skills to thrive in the future economy.

“The rapid pace of change in many industries means that the old model of intense academic specialisation will no longer work for our young adults.

“Rather, graduates into the workforce will need breath of knowledge, depth, as well as the ability to integrate multiple disciplines to solve complex problems,” he said.

He added that NUS has been pioneering interdisciplinary teaching and learning over the last 20 years, and its academics are also excelling in interdisciplinary research.

“We are confident that students in this proposed NUS College of Humanities and Sciences will benefit greatly from the multiple and integrated perspectives to be brought into their flexible learning journey,” said Prof Tan.

In June, the university said it would offer 10 cross-disciplinary degree programmes from August 2021, which will give students more flexibility to pursue programmes across disciplines.

The aim is to leverage synergies between complementary disciplines, said NUS. Some possible pairings of complementary disciplines include economics and data science, computing and project management, as well as engineering and business.

Dr Timothy Chan, director of the Academic and Student Development divisions at SIM Global Education, noted that the college will see “two very different domains of expertise put together”.

“One is hard, natural science, while another is the arts and humanities,” he said. “In confronting real-life problems, apart from scientific inquiry, you need a humanistic aspect to consider societal implications.”

Despite its interdisciplinary nature, the new college is unlikely to cannibalise the Yale-NUS College, which focuses on liberal arts, said Dr Chan.

This is because liberal arts is broad-based in curriculum and philosophy, as opposed to the new college which would still allow a specialisation in one area, just with an added perspective, he told The Straits Times.